If you've never been to a nonprofit benefit or gala before, here's what you can expect when you attend.
Prepare before you leave. The purpose of a benefit is to raise awareness and raise money. It's helpful to already have a number in mind in terms of what you're willing to give during the dinner, because if the organization does its job right, they would have tugged on your heart strings to the point where you're considering to offer even more. If this is your first benefit and you're attending to deepen your relationship with the organization, remember that the ticket price is already a donation in itself, so don't feel obligated to give if you're not prepared to.
Cocktail hour. It's in an organization's best interest to offer house wine complimentary. The more patrons drink, the more likely they are to give! Mixed drinks may be available at a non-hosted bar if you're interested in that, too. Some organizations host silent auctions during this time, as another method to raise funding. Hors d'oeuvres aren't always standard, either, so you might consider eating a little something beforehand.
Seating. Most likely, your table will be assigned. If you didn't purchase a table or weren't invited by someone who did, expect to be sitting with people you've never met before. But if that has you nervous, don't be. You're all attending the same benefit for the same cause, which means you already have that in common. Ask your table mates how long they've supported the organization, or what they like most about the organization, and you'll have plenty to discuss before the scheduled programming begins.
Programming. This is the organization's opportunity to inspire you through the work it does. You might hear reports from a country director who works on the ground, and watch a video about its programs. There might even be a guest musical group, too. The evening's keynote is usually the executive director, which is a great way to deepen your understanding of the organization's leadership.
The Ask. The moment an organization gives you an opportunity to participate in the evening usually comes towards the end, after the presentations have been shared, videos played, and meal served. This is when donors tend to be the most emotional and fired up about the organization, so development directors take full advantage of this! Donation cards will usually be passed around by volunteers or already distributed to your table. And don't worry about bringing a checkbook, as credit cards are widely accepted.